36 Pages


For centuries now theologians, educators, literary critics, psychologists, and librarians have debated the pros and cons of reading fairy tales to children. The basic question they continually ask is whether children should be exposed to the cruelty, violence, and superstition of make-believe worlds. This debate began practically the very moment the tales were written down and established a genre with children in mind-children as targets. From the late seventeenth century to the present, serious talk has centred on the moral aspect and related psychological effect of the literary tales. Yet, the pedantic posture of moralism has always been suspect, for its rigidity has prevented us from focusing on the real problem, if there is such a thing as the 'real problem' with fairy tales. Instead of examining social relations and psychological behaviour first-the very stuff which constitutes the subject matter of the tales - both the proponents and opponents of fairy tales have based and continue to base their criticism on the harsh scenes and sexual connotations of the tales, supposedly suitable or unsuitable for children. Take your pick: 'Away with smut and violence!' vs. 'L~t our children open their eyes to sex and resolve their oedipal problems'. The code words of the debate change, but there is, in fact, a 'real problem' which remains: the moral attack against fairy tales (censorship) and the rational defence of the tales (liberal civil rights) emanate from a mutual repression of what is actually happening in society.